Reflecting on the First Chapter of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family
Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on love in the family, Amoris Laetitia
(“The Joy of Love”), is a treasure trove reflecting the beauty of family life. In his introductory paragraphs the Holy Father uses the image of a “multifaceted gem” (4) to describe the two Synods of Bishops on the Family that preceded his exhortation, given the many dimensions, questions, and concerns raised by the Synod Fathers. Indeed, the pope has given us a veritable gem in this document! Over the coming weeks, let us take one chapter at a time and discover the beauty within, beginning with Chapter One.
Titled “In the Light of the Word,” Pope Francis begins Amoris Laetitia
with “an opening chapter inspired by the Scriptures, to set a proper tone” (6). Pope Francis unearths the biblical wisdom that provides the roots for the Church’s understanding of the family. He reveals the profound connection between family life and the life of the Trinity. While God is utterly transcendent – beyond us in every respect – He has nevertheless created us to share in His life and work, indeed to reflect his very nature (10). As Saint John Paul II beautifully proclaimed in his Theology of the Body
, we are not only created in the image and likeness of God individually, but in our communion with one another, and especially in the union of man and woman.
“The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon… capable of revealing God the Creator and Saviour. For this reason, fruitful love becomes a symbol of God’s inner life” (11). Love cannot be experienced alone; we cannot love or be loved in a vacuum! Love is always shared among persons, in the case of the Trinity and in every human family. As Pope Francis writes, “the triune God is a communion of love, and the family is its living icon.” God is revealed in the love of man and woman, and His life as a Trinity of three Persons is reflected in the community the couple forms around them: the family. The family is thus related to “God’s very being” (11).
What a revelatory understanding! We are made in the image and likeness of God and therefore made to share our lives with one another, just as His life is a life shared between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To be made in the image and likeness of God is to be made to be together and to live with one another. And this sharing of life reflects the shared life of God Himself!
Pope Francis contrasts this belonging for which we are made with the solitude experienced by Adam before the creation of Eve (12). He points to the “sombre” causes of this solitude in our world today – notably family problems and disputes, tragedies and violence, rivalries between siblings and between parents, and divorce (19, 20). Jesus is not blind to these very real struggles and challenges of family life, he “knows the anxieties and tensions experienced by families and he weaves them into his parables” (21). The solution offered by the pope is a virtue so characteristic of the ministry and teaching of Christ, “one often overlooked in our world of frenetic and superficial relationships. It is tenderness” (28).
How evident this tenderness is in the family in which God himself dwelt. Here we see another “trinity” that each family is called to model: the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The Father could have sent the Son by many different means. God could have entered humanity in many ways. Yet as Pope Francis powerfully said during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in 2015, “And where did He send His Son – to a palace? To a city? No. He sent Him to a family. God sent Him amid a family.” The family is thus a place where the love of God can dwell. Where God Himself can dwell. Indeed, the family mirrors that communion of love that is God Himself – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
By this first chapter of Amoris Laetitia
, Pope Francis is calling all families to be places where God can dwell because the family images God. In the joy of loving and being loved by one another, we come to know the joy of loving and being loved by God.